[Susan notes: This is an important letter, appearing as it does, in the paper serving one of the Gates Foundation model school districts.]
Published in Commercial Appeal
I found it unsettling that while 95 credentialed vo-tech teachers are losing their jobs, Memphis City Schools hired 100 fast-track-trained Teach For America corpsmen (June 3 article).
This is the new education reality not just in Memphis but across the country. Destroy collective bargaining for teachers -- Tennessee legislators did a good job of that -- and replace the most experienced and specialized career teachers with cheaper, albeit well-meaning students who view teaching like a stint in the Peace Corps.
Real teachers have been repeatedly bashed in the media, and many believe colleges of education fail to create good teachers. Perhaps these schools need to improve, but is America better served by teachers who have less, not more training? Is it not dangerous to de-professionalize teachers? We would never think to create a Doctors for America. Would we?
Most TFA recruits leave after a year or two in the classroom. They come from fine universities, but many cannot find work in their real majors. We must question the teaching commitment of students who cannot find work compared to students who willingly choose teaching as a full-time career.
If TFA were set up as an assistantship program much like student teaching, real teachers could mentor novices before they became full-fledged teachers. Then, if these young people wanted to commit to teaching, they could go back to college and get real teaching degrees.
Across the country, TFA recruits now compete with fully trained, degreed teachers for real teaching jobs. TFA recruits get jobs because their salaries will be lower, usually the same as a beginning teacher. They teach a standardized curriculum that excludes specialized courses like vocational education.
With TFA, school districts can keep replenishing schools with a cheaper, non-unionized workforce, one whose overall intent will never be to negotiate for good working conditions (for children) and benefits that teacher union collective bargaining tried to provide. Most TFA recruits don't stick around long enough to care about such matters.
We are all vested in America's children and how they learn. Their future is our future. While teachers are by far not the only predictor of how children will succeed, they matter very much. The kind of teachers in the classroom will have an impact on everyone for years to come and specialized, credentialed teachers matter.